Danielle Hayes on growing up in front of the camera

Danielle Hayes story

Danielle Hayes in an editorial for Fashion Quarterly, photographed by Mike Rooke and styled by Sammy Salsa. Image © Bauer Media.

For those of you who have no idea who I am and have just stumbled across this story, My name is Danielle Hayes and for the last nine years I have worked solely as a fashion model both internationally and locally after being crowned New Zealand’s Next Top Māori (haha) nah, model in 2010. I grew up in a small town called Kawerau in the Bay of Plenty. I am one of five children in my Family.

I attended school in Kawerau and Whakatane before heading off to university in Hamilton. After realizing university wasn’t my cup of tea I moved to Wellington to pursue a career in hospitality. It was there while living in the capital I then decided to audition for NZNTM on a whim however; it was more of a dare from close friends and classmates from Bartending School. Of which I didn’t succeed in becoming a bartender as my life changed from that audition on.

Growing up we were encouraged to be authentic to ourselves, family played a huge role in our upbringing being surrounded by our close and extended family on and off the marae. Knowing that not everyone is the same but rather differ from the next. Personalities would clash and characters would be tested. If you were to ask any member of my family about me growing up they would say that I was always the ‘weird quiet type’ always the one just watching and observing the ‘zoo’ (my family).

From memory I recall a lot of bullying in my childhood, testing for a kid so young. But it all began when I was enrolled into Kohanga (Pre school) and it continued into primary school before establishing my own personality and character in intermediate and then rebelling in my teenage years over the course of my high school days. I think I became street smart because of it.

My father is a martial arts enthusiast and he encouraged us from a young age into the sport of Tae Kwon Do. He holds a fourth daan black belt and was our instructor/dad throughout our time in the sport. Here is where we learnt patience, form, self-defense, obedience and a craft of sorts. All of us kids took part in this type of training for many years before we found our own love in other sports.

Danielle Hayes story

Danielle in her early modeling days, image on the left by David K Shields and image on the right for CoverGirl from New Zealand’s Next Top Model. Image © to their owners.

My mother, being the more logical one encouraged us to think before we act. To be a problem solver and to be independent in our lives, the teachings that she had learnt in her upbringing were evident in ours given that her mother was actually her grandmother. So historically in a way we were brought up with an older way of thinking and doing.

This cocktail was just enough of a foundation for me that played a key role in my life at the age of 19 after winning top model. A role I had not trained for and yet all that I had learnt up until that point was about to be implemented into my newfound fame.

I struggled initially with managing my being in the public eye; it was a wake up call to not be able to take a stroll on a sunny day down the street without being stopped for a chat or a photo. People would take it upon themselves to intrude on my privacy while I would be out dining with friends or family. That got annoying real quick. And it’s still annoying to date. But, I can’t just turn around and tell these strangers to F*** off and leave me alone. It’s not that I owe them anything but it doesn’t hurt anyone just to be nice. This should go both ways.

Every face that I meet and every name that I learn tends to be forgotten within the first few seconds, it’s not to say that I won’t remember you it just means I’ve forgotten your name among the many that I have met along the way.

This unforeseen pressure that comes with being a public figure in New Zealand reinforces the practice of mental, emotional and physical health. I was made aware of so many things in the beginning such as the simplest reminder of minding my P’s and Q’s in public and online, expectations were high for me to be this ‘role model’ for the generations to come and in a sense I was pretending to be the winner of NZNTM. Not pretending, but you know, at 19 unfamiliar to being a model I had to act and be a certain way when on the job or out and about because it was so foreign to me. The whole role model concept I never truly recognized until recent years when my desire to help others was highlighted and bought to my attention that if I could still be a model, role model, actress, public figure then maybe I can still be as helpful to others as I am to my friends and family.

Danielle Hayes story

Danielle modeling for local brand Lonely (left) and on the runway for Rick Owens SS16 (right). Image © to their owners.

Which is why I’m glad that social media wasn’t as in high demand back then like it is now. I would have struggled more to find my balance in the thick of it. Because in today’s society, social media plays a huge part in your online presence, the bigger your following the more impact you supposedly have. However, striving to be relatable leads if not encourages that hunger for fame, for “success” to have your moment to shine for the world to applaud or criticize. We’ve only done this to ourselves. The hustle mentality, the look at me generation…

Crazy to think that the invasion of privacy is someone’s full time job, It’s what pays their bills and puts food on their table no matter how immoral their ‘work’ is. Someone is always willing to pay for the most vulnerable. This is universal in the industry and especially now on social media. Don’t believe me? Check your following, who is exposing their vulnerability to promote an alternative way of life? It’s mind boggling, and frustrating to think that social media and its innocence has been nurtured into a marketing tool for all. Not just agencies. How much exposure is too much exposure to digest?

My approach to social media has evolved with the change in communication. The many accounts that I have had and shut down because of all the bullshit that comes with it. I am now at a point where my interactions are true and honest. My content is as me as I can possibly deliver. I try to eliminate the unforeseen pressure that social media puts upon its users to allow communication to flow freely. My following count, I’m not personally affected by but am somewhat flattered I guess. I welcome criticism with an open mind and I appreciate the compliments too. But I encourage the interactions I have online because it is a simple human need to interact.

Over the years it was imperative that playing the role as a model online was important if not more so than in the magazines and on the catwalks. The platform of where our work would be predominantly published. I saw that change happen in the summer of 2013 while working in NYC. Which in tow affected my views on modeling. I had only just convinced my self that my job description was travelling the world being photographed in other people’s clothes. Something so simple and yet I was being paid to do it. It was something to put on the CV and now I had to compete with the online market too? The level of difficulty to stand out among the masses within the entertainment industry increased by 100 that day. I felt the immense pressure cave in as though I was experiencing a panic attack.

I left the New York scene soon after that and went on to smaller markets around the world but some how managed to find a home and familiarity in Paris. It was same-same but not like New York. More of a fashion capital than New York, can you tell which city I favour more? Haha.

Danielle Hayes story

Danielle on the runway for Jarrad Godman at NZFW 2018. Image by Getty Images.

Even after being followed home and almost raped by some strange man I hold Paris close to my heart. Any experience is one worth mentioning; much could be the same for the amount of trouble I found my self in while in South Africa, Romania, Germany, Australia, Italy, England, Sweden and the USA but that was all self inflicted obviously.

So I’ve been home now for 3 years, I came home because I needed a dose of home and my family. I felt after all the travel I needed to come home for a break and to just reflect on the years abroad. It’s been a good time being home and having dabbled in a few local gigs every now and then but now at 28, I feel energetically it is time to retire at least from my role as a model. It is a bittersweet ending to a whirlwind of an opportunity, but my intentions now are to capitalize on the platform that I have to explore different creative endeavors of which I have been keeping separate and away from the spotlight. There’s a book I’ve been working on reflecting on my mental health journey that I hope to release later this year that I hope will help others with their mental health.

Choosing Zambesi (as my last show) was an easy decision as I was approached by them to do the show I was intending on doing a no show at NZFW overall but it was coincidental and somewhat full circle to end my career with an iconic NZ fashion label.

I hope to see fashion’s approach to ‘diversity’ change in a way that the designers take charge in including different walks of life; I don’t just mean the different ethnicities or weight but allow for the opportunity for people with disabilities to be included. I saw at the NZFW casting that a new agency showcased their models all of which had a disability of some sort.

The approach to ‘diversity’ needs to be taken by the balls without fear of being discriminated. If you’re only choosing these people to tick the boxes then you’re abusing the nature of tokenism. And if NZFW being inclusive for casting purposes isn’t doing much for the industry is it just a PR opportunity for media to run the headlines ‘Diversity this, diversity that’ to gain a wider audience? We need the designers to make that progressive step in how they showcase their collection and in how they present their brand to the world. We need them to take that leap in that direction to not be afraid to include all walks of life. Letting go. To be inclusive to all of humanity, this isn’t just a stab at the fashion industry but a stab at the whole algorithm of humankind and how for some reason we exclude those who differ from one to the next instead of compromising ones ideals of perfection and beauty.

Danielle Hayes story

Danielle Hayes in FashioNZ’s 20th anniversary editorial in 2018 (with Penny Pickard on the left). Images by Katherine Tuenter and styled by Sammy Salsa.

Take the rise in Māori appreciation for instance; has it really taken this long for Māori and or Pacific Island designers to break into the industry? Yes, if it weren’t for Miromoda and their 10 years of dedication to exploring and launching careers for our people then I’m not entirely sure where our people would be within the industry alone. Maybe hiding behind another brand and not exploring the many possibilities. I’ve had the pleasure of not only representing our people on the global stage but also locally supporting them by doing shows and campaigns for their collections. For me it always brings an essence of Whanau together as most Māori are the same if not related haha.

Being Māori on the international stage was an advantage as most were unfamiliar with my accent and would assume I was part Asian/black Australian or British. The mystery creature that I was; presented a lot of curiosity from international designers and casting directors; once the initial introductions were over id have these people saying a few words in Māori. It was comforting to know that they were open and welcoming to another person’s culture.

Being kiwi, I acknowledge my maori heritage and would often scream to strangers that I’m a kiwi while travelling the world. I travelled the world with confidence knowing where I come from and how I came to be the person I am. To be grateful to have grown up on an island far far away from the rest of the world was an advantage that most would consider a burden. Friendly by nature it wasn’t difficult to make friends, and upon returning home the first meal I purchased was two pies haha.

The future is linear and what I do know is that the goals and mini achievements I have lined up for myself are exactly what I’ve wanted to do for so long. As a creative person it is always an exciting feeling anticipating the creation of something new. There are obstacles that need to be jumped when the time is right and in due time the change will be presented for all to see. It’s time to expand my brand and showcase more of my interests and passions. After all, I am more than just that girl who won that show.

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